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Straight into Darkness
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Lustmord – the joy of murder. The terrifying concept seems apt for the brutal slaying of a beautiful young society wife dumped in the vast English Garden. Homicide inspector Axel Berg is horrified by the crime…and disturbed by the artful arrangement of the victim’s clothes and hair – a madman’s portrait of death.
Berg’s superiors demand quick answers and a quick arrest: a vagrant, the woman’s husband, anyone who can be demonized will do. When a second body is discovered, the city erupts into panic, the unrest fomented by the wild-eyed, hate-mongering Austrian Adolf Hitler and his Brownshirt party of young thugs.
Berg can trust no one as he relentlessly hunts a ruthless killer, dodging faceless enemies and back-alley intrigue, struggling to bring a fiend to justice before the country – and his life – veer straight into darkness.
ALSO BY FAYE KELLERMAN
The Ritual Bath
Sacred and Profane
The Quality of Mercy
Milk and Honey
Day of Atonement
Prayers for the Dead
Double Homicide (with Jonathan Kellerman)
Straight into Darkness, like many historical novels, posed inherent problems that at times seemed daunting and insurmountable. Thankfully for me, many people volunteered their time and expertise, and I remain indebted to them for their services. I took creative liberties in writing the story, so any inaccuracies are solely my invention, certainly not the fault of anyone listed below. I hope that by mentioning their names, I don't cause them undue embarrassment.
To the following people, I say thank you, thank you, thank you.
Robert Hultner is a distinguished crime writer in Germany. The information he imparted to me about Germany between the wars was invaluable. I still remember the reading of his book that took place at a German beer hall complete with orchestra and actors. It wasn't just a reading, it was drama!
Heinz Prinz, Erster Hauptkommissar of the Munich police, is now retired. He authored an enormous history of the Munich Police Department that was a major source of information for me. Over coffee at a crime festival in Munich, he offered me many unique insights and perspective into the workings of the police department.
Dr. Barbara Distel—Leiterin der Gedenkstätte Dachau—is the director of the Dachau memorial. There is a Jewish saying that the world is based on righteous Gentiles. Certainly this is Barbara, a tireless worker in a thankless job. She didn't set off to become a hero, but that's what she is.
Rudolf Herfurtner is an award-winning writer of children's books in Germany. Generous with his time and knowledge of Bavarian history, he carted me all over the countryside as I took copious notes. He gave me a glimpse into the intricacies of Bavarian life, everything from rococo architecture to farm equipment.
Chaim Frank gave me a detailed tour and history of Jewish life in Munich. For years he has worked tirelessly to keep a Jewish presence in a land that tried so hard to eradicate it.
Ellen Presser is director of the Jewish Cultural Center of Munich. Her warmth and hospitality made my stay in Munich special. The synagogue was my home away from home, something that was emotional and familiar, something I could reach out and touch.
Deanna Frankel is a dear friend. I thank her for the Russian lesson.
Agnes Krup went way beyond the job description by agreeing to read my novel for correct German names and grammar not just once but twice. Many many thanks.
How many Germans who were alive during the Holocaust would dare to speak to a Jewish woman who identifies herself as such? There were two of them who did.
Maxi Besold died in 2004, but I distinctly remember her describing the tears running down her mother's face while listening to the radio reporting the election results in 1933. Meeting her was an enriching journey into a past that is being increasingly relegated to pages in a history book.
Franz Geiger is an author, playwright, and literary translator. Now in his eighties, he was a member of the World War II resistance group the White Rose. I was in awe of his memory as well as his energy. His help was invaluable, especially his descriptions of the Munich he recalled as a young boy. His hospitality and his tour of Bogenhausen added immensely to the richness of my understanding of the times.
Ulrich Moritz and Sabine Deitmer turned my working stay in Dortmund into something warm and wonderful, from the strictly kosher lunch to the stories of their new Israeli family.
Dr. Andreas Heusler, senior scholar in contemporary and Jewish history, is one of Munich's premier archivists, and I say without hesitation that I could not have written this book without his help. Dr. Heusler was a font of esoteric information: maps, streetcar lines, gas lines, the police station, the electricity lines, and phone directories. During the past two years, he has made himself available to me in person as well as by e-mail, answering my persistent nagging questions with accuracy and good humor.
My utmost thanks belong to one fabulous individual. Dr. Regula Venske is a scholar, crime writer, award-winning children's author, and, most important, a wonderful friend. From the beginning, she has been my eyes and ears in Germany. Fluent in English with a beautiful speaking voice, she has been my voice in Germany since we first appeared together to do readings five years ago. During my subsequent visits, it was Regula who arranged for me to meet all my sources and contacts for Straight into Darkness, schlepping me back and forth, translating written material as well as conversation. Once in Germany, she basically took charge of my life, from scheduling events to finding Orthodox synagogues and kosher food. She was meticulous in every way and flawless in the execution of details. Over the past years, I have pestered her with countless questions and she has always been so gracious in indulging me, giving me stories and anecdotes, enriching my knowledge of Germany as well as my life.
And of course, my final thanks go to the one person who has been my truest and most constant source of support, not only through this project, but also through my entire life. Jonathan Kellerman is not only an award-winning author extraordinaire, but a supreme gentleman and the best husband and boyfriend a woman could ever want. Thanks for the last thirty-four years, babe. And like they say: to a hundred and twenty.
Papa, it's them again!"
The banging on the door accompanied by the panic in Joachim's voice roused Berg to action. Flinging off the covers, he bolted from the warmth of his feather bed, scarcely registering the frigid air as his bare feet contacted the worn oak floor, running into the common room of the family's apartment. He was awake and ready for confrontation.
It was still dark, but Berg could make out the duvet draping over the sofa. Of late, his son had taken to sleeping on the couch, leaving his sister alone in the room they had once shared. Privacy issues: typical of a boy of fifteen. His body demanded attention without his sister as an audience. Joachim was tall, lean, and movie-star handsome with hound-dog blue eyes and a thick mop of hair, blond in color from his mother, but the curl came from Berg.
The room shook from hurling rocks hitting the outside stone.
"That's it!" Berg turned on the lone electric bulb that hung over the dining table and fit the crank into the window. It was a blessing that his family lived on the top floor. The hoodlums below did not have enough force to propel the rocks up to their unit. "That is it!"
"Axel, what are you doing?"
His wife's voice. Berg stopped and turned. Her eyes were still heavy with sleep, and her tresses stuck out at odd angles. Even though the rainstorm had passed, the air was filled with static electricity. He said, "Go back to bed, Britta. It's cold."
"If it's cold to me, it's cold to you."
"Then be a love and get me my coat."
"Axel, leave them alone. At least, they don't break anything."
"You don't know who they are."
"Of course I know who they are. They are the Austrian's finest—"
"How do you know? They're not even dressed in brown."
"I know punks!" He leaned into the window crank and felt his face get hot from exertion. "They are punks."
"If they are from Hitler, it's not you they want. It's probably the Jews down below."
"The Weinstocks on the second floor. Or the Maslanokovs."
"The Maslanokovs are Russian, not Jewish."
"Kommunisten. What's the difference?"
"I thought they were Social Democrats."
Britta dismissed him with a wave of her hand. "Same thing."
"I beg to differ. I voted Social Democrat in the last election."
"I wouldn't publicize that if you want to keep our windows intact."
Berg ignored her and gave another push on the crank. "What is it with this window? You would think we glued it to the framework."
"We did. We shut it with paste because it was letting in so much cold air."
"What? When was this?"
"About a month ago—"
"Aha!" The window sprang open, and immediately a bitter cold wind slapped Berg's face. He could almost taste the snow from the Alps. He shouted at the boys below. His displeasure just egged them on. The projectiles began to fall at a faster rate. "Shout at them for me, Britta!"
"I will not!"
"I need you to distract them. I ask little of you."
"And risk being stoned?"
"I'll do it, Papa."
Britta glared at her elder child. "So you join your father in stupidity! One moment I have a clever son. Then he grows to a certain age and becomes idiotic like all men!" She huffed and went back into the bedroom, slamming the door.
Joachim suppressed a smile. He turned to his father. "What should I do?"
"Distract them." From the closet, Berg took out his jacket, his boots, and thick woolen socks. "Yell at them, make faces at them, whatever comes to mind. Just keep them occupied."
The boy looked out the window and frowned. "There are four of them, Papa."
After pulling on his socks and boots, Berg quickly tied up the laces. "That's good. When they scatter, my luck at catching one of them will improve." He put on his coat.
"You're going outside in your pajamas?" Joachim asked. "You will freeze."
"Ice doesn't form on a moving object." Berg kissed his son's forehead. "They seem to be losing interest. Curse at them, Joachim. Be loud and vile. That should fire them up again."
Berg slipped out the door, down the hallway, and into the nearly black stairwell. Using the wall as his guide, he jogged down four stories' worth of steps, heels clanging against the metal. The air was pure frost, making it hard to breathe. He scrunched his face in disgust as odors assaulted him: rotting garbage, fresh cat piss, and predawn cooking smells, specifically sizzling sausage. That anyone had money for breakfast meat surprised him. Berg's own breakfast—when he ate breakfast—was usually a roll with butter. Times were better, yes, but no one had any savings. The city was still reeling from the Great Inflation of five years earlier. There was little trust in the present currency or the fools in Berlin who now claimed a healthy monetary system.
As soon as Berg hit the ground floor, he threw open the outside door and pumped his legs to full speed. The boys homed in on the squeaking hinges, saw the charging figure, and took off in all directions. Berg elected to take on not the one closest to him but, rather, the biggest, the ringleader.
The boy appeared to be around Joachim's age but stockier, more muscled across the chest like a typical Bavarian. Like Berg, Joachim had the lean build of an effete English schoolboy. But also like Berg, he had strength in those sinewy arms. More than once Joachim had come home with a bloody nose and a sly smile. At the Gymnasium, he was known as a boy who could hold his own.
Berg lengthened his stride, having an advantage over his quarry because he was already running while the teenagers were warming up. But the punk managed to elude immediate capture. The kid turned right, then left, then right, then left, in an effort to shake Berg off, but all it did was slow them both down. Finally, the boy realized he could pick up speed if he ran in a straight line, and was able to pull ahead by several meters. He appeared to be heading northwest toward the Isar, a debatable strategy because it limited his options. Once there, he'd either have to run alongside the river or cut across one of the bridges. Although Berg wasn't the fastest runner, he had endurance. He decided the best plan was to keep up a steady gait and increase his speed later, after the kid had tired from the wind, wet, and cold.
Dawn was imminent but there was no glory in the skies, just a mass of pewter clouds wafting through charcoal globs of sooty smoke. The little light that did break through only served to make the city more depressing; it revealed lines of row houses with thatched roofs and locked shutters instead of the newer glass windows. Interspersed among the residential buildings were the infamous cigarette rooms, but it was too early even for the prostitutes. Heart banging against his chest, Berg flew by several fleabag hotels that housed jobless men curled up in blankets, sleeping behind the display windows. When the kid hit the levee, he abruptly turned left and scrambled down the knoll until he was at the riverbank. He continued north.
Berg kept apace, his body in rhythm to his run.
Last night's rainstorm had turned the ground into a treacherous slush of mud, debris, and lumpy tree roots, all working in tandem to trip him up. The churning river was deafening, especially in contrast to the empty streets. Lungs burning, Berg continued his chase, each step spraying mud against his pajama bottoms and the hem of his coat. Working hard to keep his balance, he choked back icy spray from the roiling water as the river danced over rocks and collided with huge boulders. A sticky, gelid mist chilled his face. His nose and ears had turned numb. His fingers had become stiff and lost feeling, but internally he was warm from running, sweat accumulating under his armpits and around his neck.
His body in sync with metronome of his feet: thump, thump, thump, thump.
Within minutes, he passed the new German Museum of Science and Technology, Munich's proof to the rest of the country that it was a forward-thinking city. The sky was turning light gray. Soon the streets would fill up with bicycles, pushcarts, motor scooters, buses, streetcars, and the ever-growing population of privately owned automobiles.
It would be easier for the punk to lose him in traffic, so Berg lengthened his stride. The kid turned his head and looked over his shoulder. The action slowed him down, allowing Berg to narrow the gap between them. Now he was on the punk's tail . . . just a little more momentum.
A final sprint, legs extended to the maximum, then Berg reached out and grabbed the punk's coat, trying not to trip over his own feet as they both pitched forward. The teen tried to get away by slipping his coat off, but Berg was ready. He grasped the scruff of the boy's neck with his long, dexterous fingers, yanking him backward. Then he gave the kid a solid kick behind the knees. The teen buckled and slipped, then fell facedown in the mud. Berg jerked him back up to his feet and slammed him into the wire fence that lined the river.
"Heil Hitler!" the punk groaned out as he dropped to his knees.
"Your devotion is touching." Berg was breathing hard but remained in control. He pulled the kid's arms behind his back, took out a pair of handcuffs from his coat, and locked the boy's hands together. Once again, he snapped him to his feet. "Perhaps he can visit you in prison. It is a place he knows well from firsthand experience."
"Your days are numbered. There are more of us than you."
"Yes, yes. Still, you are in handcuffs and I am not." Berg pushed him up the hill and onto the street. Without speaking, they walked a couple of minutes until they reached Ludwigs Bridge. Berg pushed him left. "This way."
Berg was surprised. The kid offered nothing in the way of physical resistance. He had some girth but was soft in the arms. Short, too. He had a pink face but any face would be pink in such cold weather. Piggish blue eyes. To Berg, they all were pigs. Underneath his worn coat, the boy wore a beige work shirt, the rough fabric probably woven from nettles, thick woolen pants, and boots with more holes than leather.
Abruptly, the young Nazi broke into song. "O Germany, high in honor . . ."
Berg tightened his grip. "Quiet! People are still sleeping."
The teen changed the song but not the volume. "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles."
Berg kneed him in the back. "I said, Quiet!"
"You object to Germany's great national anthem?"
"Not the anthem, only your voice."
Weighing several options, Berg decided on the main police station on Ett Strasse. It was ten minutes away, and Berg felt more comfortable holding the kid in his own territory. A push forward, and the two trudged through the fog and the cold on the cobblestones, trying to avoid the numerous puddles. Berg could hear the city begin to stir: the occasional clopping of hooves, the squeaking of wooden wheel axles on wagons, the purr of motor vehicles, the clanging of streetcars. Heavy objects—most likely crates of food being unloaded and delivered—were falling to the ground at Viktualienmarkt, only blocks away. Berg decided to bypass the market in order to avoid unwanted attention, specifically from the punk's compatriots who seemed to be everywhere these days. "What's your name, Junge?"
"I don't have to answer your questions."
"You will eventually."
"No, you are wrong. One day, you will have to answer my questions."
"That day has not come, Junge. What is your name?"
The kid shrugged. "Lothar."
"Lothar, why do you throw rocks at our building? It houses many of your own."
"But it also has many degenerates—Jews, Kommunisten, Independent Socialists, Social Democrats, Bavarian Workers, German Democrats, Liberal burghers, German Socialists—"
"That's a lot of people, Junge—everyone in the city other than Nazis."
"Exactly." The kid stopped walking and turned his head. "Do whatever you must. But we both know, Inspektor, that I will find a sympathetic ear with the police. Especially when they see you dressed so comically."
Suddenly Berg realized he was still in his pajamas. Embarrassed and angry, he backhanded the teen across the left side of his face. "You underestimate me, Junge." Before the kid could respond, Berg backhanded the right side. "Don't talk anymore. You're irritating."
The kid opened his mouth, but no sound came out. They plodded the rest of the way in silence. Berg shivered. He was chilled, wet, and very troubled. There was more truth than lie in the young Brownshirt's words.
Built on land once owned by an Augustine cloister, the Central Police Station on Ett Strasse was a Gothic labyrinth of multistoried stone structures encircling an open central courtyard, the faces of the buildings overlaid with a checkerboard pattern of windows. A steel-rimmed pebbled lot provided an area to park official police vehicles—scooters, cars, and motorized wagons. The gate to the car lot was flanked by two monumental stone pilasters supporting muscled, snarling lions—the symbol of Bavaria. Horses were stabled in the back of the complex, fewer in number now that motorbikes were rapidly replacing them.
The primary entrance to the station house was reached by walking up stone steps sandwiched between square pilasters festooned with friezes. The main doors were imposing and heavy. Inside, the ground floor held a narrow, high-ceilinged anteroom where a uniformed officer with a sign-in sheet sat behind a desk. Included in his duties was the dispensing of detailed directions to the various interior offices. But he also gave out forms. Bavaria, like all of Germany, had many, many forms, the most important being the registry of addresses. Any German resettling from one city to another was required to report the move and his new address to the proper authorities. The Fatherland wanted to know where its citizens were at all times. It not only made for an orderly society, but also greatly simplified the process of conscription, now rendered illegal by the Versailles Treaty. There were also the requisite forms for citizens to lodge official crime reports and complaints.
The layouts of the building's floors were nearly identical: a series of interconnecting whitewashed hallways punctuated by many doorways. The pine floors, discolored and scuffed from constant use, creaked under heavy foot traffic. By the time Berg had accompanied his charge up the staircase to the fourth floor, it was close to seven in the morning. It was nearly eight when he finished with the processing and paperwork and disposing of the youth. Several of his colleagues were now at work.
Because Berg and these men were part of the newly established Mordkommission—the Homicide Unit—and often dealt with complex crimes, they shared a premium office with high ceilings, crown moldings, and floor-to-ceiling paned windows that allowed in steely light and lots of draft. Old-fashioned gas sconces were still used to augment the newly installed but rather weak yellow-tinged electrical room lighting that flickered with each uptake of wind. The radiator was diligently hissing out steam, but still the place was frigid.
Rubbing his hands together, Berg felt eyes were upon him, specifically those of Georg Müller, who had looked up from the communal worktable that he shared with Berg and Ulrich Storf. Müller had just turned forty, a man of medium height and dense physique—thick limbs, barrel chest, wide neck. His face was round and ruddy, topped by a helmet of chestnut-colored hair. His pewter eyes, hooded under lazy, drooping lids, belied a quick mind, though he was a little lax in his report writing . . . skimpy with detail. Georg just couldn't be bothered with the usual preciseness that was the mark of the German Zeitgeist. Still, he was a good worker and an amiable fellow, and Berg considered him a friend. Right now, he was staring at Berg's pajamas, his lips barely resisting a smile. "Grüss Gott, Axel."
"Guten Morgen." Berg blew warm breath on his hands, regarding his co-workers attired neatly in appropriate dress. The basic Munich police uniform consisted of dark waistcoat with buttons hidden under a front pleat, a detachable round collar, and matching dark trousers. Georg's police cap—the newer style without the heavy metal spire—sat neatly beside his paperwork. "I'm going home to change. I stopped by so no one would think I'm shirking my duties."
"May I ask why you're half-naked?"
"I am not naked—neither half nor whole."
"But neither are you in clothing."
It was Ulrich Storf who had piped up. Still in his twenties, he had recently been promoted to this division. Although it was unfair to assume favoritism, Berg felt that the man had been advanced either because he was a relative of some higher-up or because he was in the right party and knew the right people. A tall man, he was quite thin but still had a double chin. His shiny face with its rosy cheeks smacked of youth and impertinence, yet there was definite intelligence in his eyes. "If it's a costume you're seeking, I remind you that it's past Fasching."
"With all the Brownshirt clowns who clog up Königsplatz, I'd say this city is one continuous carnival."
"If you feel that every day is Fasching, then at least be a good Bavarian and put on your lederhosen."
"I am not Bavarian."
Müller tossed him off with a wave. "Ach, you Prussians have no sense of humor."
Berg retorted calmly, "I am not Prussian."
"He is worse than Prussian." Müller winked at Storf. "He is Danish!"
"Ah . . ." Ulrich grinned back. "So when he grows up, we will let him be German."
"Many Danes would bristle at such an invitation," Berg answered. An angry gust of wind rattled the windows. The walls were damp and smelled of mold. "No, my Kameraden, though many Bavarians would dispute it, I fear that I am as German as the rest of you."
"So he's even worse than Danish," Storf whispered to Müller sotto voce. "He is a Kommunist!"
Berg smiled. "I think I will see you all later."
Storf said, "Button up your coat, Axel. It wouldn't be nice to scare the good people who ride the streetcar."
"I think I will go by foot," Berg said. "It's not so far."
Müller said, "Still, you are not dressed for the weather, Axel. I'll boil some water for tea. It will warm up the innards. Not just for you, but for all of us. The radiator lacks energy this morning. Would you like it with or without schnapps?"
"Whatever you bring, Georg, I will be glad to drink."
Berg took his place at the table and closed his eyes, trying not to think about the piles of paperwork in front of him. Once again, general crime was on the rise after a dip in '24, that anomaly due to the more stable but devalued mark. Still, things were not as bad as in '23 when inflation had been lethal. This year, crimes against property were down, as was juvenile crime. Berg had a theory about the decline; he believed that once the government lifted the ban on the NSDAP, the delinquents redirected their antisocial proclivities into being good little Nazis. So maybe Hitler was good for something after all.
Unemployment was up. Of the seven hundred thousand people who resided in Munich and its environs, over forty thousand were out of work. Troubling, yes, but even the current joblessness with its ebbs and flows wasn't as worrisome as the alarming trend of deaths from traffic accidents. Automobiles had increasingly become the transportation of choice for the rich, their cars choking the streets with din and noxious smoke. Nothing but menaces, the motorized vehicles, pushing out the competition with their size and weight, honking at bicycles and knocking over wagons and, too often, people. Cars should be confined to government use only.
"Sleeping on the job, Axel?"
Berg snapped open his eyes and sprang to his feet, recognizing the voice of his superior.
"It is convenient since you're already dressed for bed." Hauptkommissar Martin Volker held up his left hand. The fingers on his right hand were locked around sheaves of paper. "No need to explain. As a matter of fact, I prefer that you not explain, that you don't even talk until I've asked you several questions about this trivial matter."
The trivial matter was Lothar Felb. Someone had cleaned him up; his face was scrubbed raw and pink, although his hair retained bits of this morning's mud bath. He was standing to Volker's left, a distinctive smirk across his lips.
The Kommissar's pale blue eyes were unreadable. He was dressed in an exquisitely tailored dark suit, silk tie, and starched white-collared shirt, the gold chain of his pocket watch dipping from his vest pocket to the pocket of his trousers. White-haired and tall, Volker was aristocratically handsome. It was rumored that he had independent money. If so, why he was working in Munich's police department—even as head of the Kriminalpolizei—was anyone's guess.
The expression on the punk's face told Berg that he had gotten up early for nothing.
"You are the one who arrested this boy, Axel?"
"I brought him in, yes."
"For disturbing the peace, vandalism, wanton destruction of property, resisting arrest, and running from a police officer."
Lothar said, "I didn't know you were a police officer—"
"Quiet!" Volker snapped.
"His acts are described in detail in the papers, sir," Berg stated. "If you read the file, it's all there."
"I did read the file, Inspektor."
Berg swallowed hard. "Of course."
- On Sale
- Aug 1, 2005
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing